What Are You Afraid Of? (Rev. 11 & 17:7-18)

Posted: April 5, 2010 in Uncategorized

Have you ever been afraid of something that ended up being no big deal? When I was a kid, I was terrified of getting into my first fight because I was a wee little dude.  I mean I was like 120lbs soaking wet.  All I thought about were girls and I petrified of being embarrassed in front of potential girlfriends.  Then, one day on the bus ride home, a kid punched me right in the face.  I started laughing.  I couldn’t help it. I was so afraid of that moment and when it came it was no big deal.  Didn’t really hurt that much, so I just started laughing.  It freaked the dude out so much that he just sat down!

The early Christians were afraid of falling into the hands of the Roman justice system.  Emperor Domitian demanded to be worshipped as Lord and God but Christians had taken an oath to only worship Jesus.   If these early Christians were caught refusing to worship Domitian then they could be tortured and killed. 

The book of Revelation was written to these men and women to let them know that, as horrific as such  fate sounds, in the end, it wouldn’t be a big deal.  How can anyone say that? Let’s take a look at Revelation 11 and 17:7-18.

First, Revelation 11:

11:1 Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, 2 but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months. 3 And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.”

4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5 And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed. 6 They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire. 7 And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit  will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, 8 and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically  is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified. 9 For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb, 10 and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth. 11 But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. 12 Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here!” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies watched them. 13 And at that hour there was a great earthquake, and a tenth of the city fell. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the rest were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.

14 The second woe has passed; behold, the third woe is soon to come.

15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” 16 And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, 17 saying,

“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
who is and who was,
for you have taken your great power
and begun to reign.
18 The nations raged,
but your wrath came,
and the time for the dead to be judged,
and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints,
and those who fear your name,
both small and great,
and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.”

19 Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant was seen within his temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake, and heavy hail.

 

What is going on here? Well, first of all, “measuring” in apocalyptic literature = spiritual protection.  So, it symbolizes the protection of God from His enemies.  In the great Temple of Solomon, the inner court belonged to the presence of God but the outer court to others.  Thus, the people of God who will be persecuted for a time but it will not (and can not) hurt our all powerful God. In other words, God is going to allow Rome to persecute his people but don’t think that the Empire can triumph over God.  It can’t even touch him.

 What about the two witnesses? The two witnesses symbolized the church as is clear from comparing them to lampstands, which John writes near the beginning symbolizes the church.

In 11:9-13, the whole world sees the defeat and resurrection of the witnesses, which means that they are found throughout the world and that Rome has only seemingly triumphed over the church.  This is what continues to happen today.  The more an empire tries to stamp out the church, the more it grows! It is God’s way of showing how utterly powerless the empires of the world truly are.

Now let’s look at Revelation 17:7-18:

the angel said to me, “Why do you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her. 8 The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the dwellers on earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world will marvel to see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come. 9 This calls for a mind with wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; 10 they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while. 11 As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction. 12 And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast. 13 These are of one mind, and they hand over their power and authority to the beast. 14 They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”

15 And the angel said to me, “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages. 16 And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, 17 for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. 18 And the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.”

And what is going on here? First of all, This is a parody of both God and Christ. In 1:4, 8; 4:8; 11:17; and 16:5, the beast “once was and is not and is about to ascend from the abyss and go to destruction.” 

 Earlier in the book we learn that the 7 mountains = Rome and since Rome divided its empire into ten provinces, it is common to suppose that the 10 kings are the governors of the ten provinces.

These texts show us who has real power and, in the end, what is truly worth giving our lives to.

 What are you living for? What would kill your desire to live if you lost it? 

We live in such fear of not having enough money, not having enough stuff, not having enough power, not having enough fame or being alone that it enslaves us and, from an eternal perspective, ruins the lives God has given us.

We are made to follow Jesus even if it means humiliation, torture and death.  So few of us face such dire consequences but we may have to sacrifice the perfect education, the perfect job or “the one” because in the end only following Jesus matters.

It’s not that a good education, a good job and a good spouse is a bad thing, it’s grace upon grace from God, but it’s not EVERYTHING! 

One day Jesus will return and then we will know without a shadow of a doubt that all the fears that drive our lives are toothless, paperless tigers. They mean so very little in the grand scope of things.  If we just follow Jesus, we will see that losing the things that mean so much to the culture around us will be like taking a shot to the face that ends up making us laugh out loud.

 So, if even humiliation, torture and death are not real threats to those who follow Jesus, then what are we afraid of?  Just follow Jesus and everything else will fall into place.

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